Cho Dae-hee (age 28) works for four hours a day at the Pohang Post Office located in Pohang City in North Gyeongsang Province. He is responsible for classifying the post by post code and placing them in the post bags of 80 couriers. It is a troublesome task that requires memorizing of 264 post codes, but the work is simply like play to Cho, who is severely autistic and able to memorize several years of calendars.
Cho has become an asset to the post office, who has been working since 2020. "Without Dae-hee, the pace of work becomes noticeably slower," says Cho Gyeong-jae, a courier at the post office. Dae-hee's contract with the post office, however, only lasts until August next year. "He is already worried that he might not be able to work at the post office next year," says Dae-hee's mother Na Seong-hee (age 55).
Popular TV drama "Extraordinary Attorney Woo" has ended recently. It had a happy ending, with protagonist Woo Young-woo, who suffers from autism, being employed as a regular attorney at law firm Hanbada. Her annual salary would be close to 150 million won, considering the average wage at large law firms.
However, such a happy ending is possible because Woo is a genius with IQ of 165. For those with developmental disabilities (such as autism and mental disabilities), a high pay check is a far-fetched dream. In reality, they struggle simply to find everyday jobs.
Seven out of ten developmentally delayed are jobless. According to the Korea Employment Agency for Persons with Disabilities, the employment rate of those with autistic disabilities and mental disabilities were 28.1 percent and 28.0 percent, respectively, lower than national employment rate (which was 60.4 percent as of December 2021) and overall employment rate of those with disabilities (34.6 percent). Average monthly wage after employment averages around 1.21 million for the autistic and 0.92 million for those with mental disabilities, which are about half of the wage received by employees with disabilities. This is because the employment and average wage of the physically disabled is higher than those of the mentally challenged.
Lee Ji-eun (age 29), who has mental abilities equivalent to an elementary student, has been struggling with employment for nearing 10 years after she has become of age. She worked at a cafeteria in a welfare center for the disabled, but quit after two years. It was not because she was incapable, but because her job was limited to two years on the grounds that employment opportunities should be shared to others. Lee was able to find a job in a grocery retail store in Incheon in February this year. She signed up for the On-site Job Training Program, a nationally funded program that offers intern-like training. She was officially hired in three months.
"Ji-eun is lucky, as most of her friends were not hired after training," said Ji-eun's mother Lim Jeong-hee (age 51). The Ministry of Public Health and Welfare data shows that only 109 were employed among the 457 that received training programs during the first seven months of this year. "We need to offer differential employment subsidies based on the type and degree of disabilities to raise the employment rate," say Professor Seo Dong-myeong of Social Welfare at Dongduk Women's University.